Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tropical Air over Seattle

Breath deeply this morning. 

A few days earlier the air was over the tropics.  Moist, warm and soothing to our wind and cold whipped skin.  And we just broke a major low temperature record.  This morning, our low temperature (56F) was the HIGHEST low temperature ever recorded in November at Seattle Tacoma Airport.  That is a big record to break.

Yesterday, Bellingham broke their daily high temperature record (60F) and today all sorts of daily high temperature records will be broken around the region.  

To certify the tropical origins of our air, I used the NOAA Hysplit trajectory model to trace the origin of the air above us at 500 meters (blue), 1500 meters (red), and 3000 meters (green) for the past 150 hours.  Our low level air, came from just east of Hawaii.  The 1500 meter air from the deep tropics.  No wonder many of us are fighting the urge to grab a Mai Tai today.

A plot of the winds and temperatures above Seattle for the past day (below), shows a freezing level of 10,000 feet, with strong southwesterly winds aloft--a sign of a potent atmospheric river event.

Over the past 24 hr (ending 5 AM), portions of the SW slopes of the Olympics received over 6 inches of rain, with the north Cascades getting as much as 3-5 inches.

But perhaps more impressive than the rain on the windward sides of the mountains, is the profound rain shadowing in the lee of the Olympics, where some locations only received 1-2 hundredths of an inch (see below).  Just amazing.

However, the wacky weather award yesterday had to go to Bellingham, Washington, where in less than an hour (around 4 PM Tuesday),  the winds turned southerly and surged to over 40 knots, and the temperature rose from 46 to 60F (see report below).

The temperature trace there shows the story and the fact the temperatures are EVEN WARMER right now--62F (and there are strong winds at Bellingham currently as well).
Perhaps just as unusual was the existence of sea fog (a.k.a., warm advection fog) over Lake Washington  this morning (see below).  The air was so humid and warm (dew point at Seattle-Tacoma Airport was 57F at 7 AM), that the cooler waters of Lake Washington (51F according to the Lake WA buoy) was able to bring the air to saturation.

The temperatures today will delight you.  A plot of temperatures during the past two weeks at Seattle shows that our current morning temperatures are WAY higher than the normal highs (purple line below).
 And the UW high resolution model forecast for surface air temperature at 2 PM  today shows 60s all over western Washington.  Some locations in the upper 60s.

 So pull out a short-sleeve shirt and breath in the tropical air.  Today, will not feel like normal Seattle weather fare of November.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Warm Temperature Records Will Fall As A Strong Atmospheric River Hits the Pacific Northwest

The next 48-hr will be stunning in a number of ways:  very heavy precipitation in the mountains, river flooding, and temperatures that will reach record levels.

The forecast for today at 1 PM, shows the story, a strong plume of moisture from the south that is heading directly into the Northwest (blue and white colors indicate the largest values).

The moisture channel satellite image from last night at 9:30 PM shows an amazing plume of water vapor heading directly from the tropics.  It has our name on it.

Accompanying this plume of tropical moisture will be near-tropical warmth, something illustrated by a forecast chart for 1 PM Tuesday at the 850 hPa (about 5000 ft) level.  Red/orange are warm temperatures, driven northward by powerful southwesterly flow aloft

Or we could look at the forecast temperatures (red lines, °C), winds, and humidity (shading) over Seattle (see below). Time increases to the left and the heights are in pressure (700 hPa is 10,000 ft). The blue line is the freezing (0°C) level. 

Unbelievable...the freezing level rises about 10,000 ft.  This means rain everywhere...even over the high terrain of the Cascades.  The atmosphere is very moist (green colors), with strong southwesterly winds aloft.

Now let me show you the  forecast precipitation with 24 hour totals.

Ending 4 PM Tuesday...heavy rain in the mountains, with 2-5 inches in the Olympics.

 Even more the next 24h (ending Wed. at 4 PM)

 Just as much the next 24 h.  Yikes.

Add them all together for the 72h total ending 4 PM Turkey Day.  Much of the mountains get 5-10 inches, with a few places in the Olympics getting more.  Expect flooding on a number of rivers. And  yes, our snow will do some serious melting.

 But what really will be amazing will be the temperatures.  Here are the forecasts from the National Weather Service SREF ensemble for Seattle...many of the members will reach into the LOWER 60s on Wednesday....probably breaking the daily record.

Well...this is climatologically the wettest weak of the year!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Real Signs of Human-Caused Global Warming

Human being are causing a rapid increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide and methane gases being the most well known.

But how have increasing greenhouse gas influenced the weather and climate we experience todayWhat current effects are unequivocal, right now?
The media is full of claims regarding the current impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, but many of these claims are without a good basis in science.    Some recent examples include:

  • That Hurricane Harvey's heavy rains were a sign of global warming.
  • That the recent California wildfires were the result of human-caused warming.
  • That winter storms in the Northwest are becoming more intense due to global warming
  • That global warming is causing more droughts in the West.
  • That increasing greenhouse gases are causing more cold waves over the eastern U.S.

And there are many, more.  A weakness of many of media and activist claims is that one extreme event can not provide "proof" of human-caused global warming.   Only statistically significant trends have meaning when one is talking about climate change.  And many of the claims are inconsistent with climate models and basic statistics.

But let me be clear: increasing greenhouse gases associated with human activities are changing our climate  in profound ways, and there are "fingerprints" of human effects today that provide compelling evidence of human influence.

When one wants to identify a thief, finding their fingerprints often provide incontrovertible proof of their guilt.   What are some "fingerprints" of increasing greenhouse gases on the weather/climate system?

1.  Fingerprint 1:  Greater warmer in the Arctic than the midlatitudes.

When climate models are run with increased greenhouse gases, virtually all of them not only show warming, but they show a similar distribution of warming.  Below is an an example, showing an average for several global climate models of the change in surface temperature during this century assuming that greenhouse gases keep up increasing at the current pace.

 Blue is cooling, red is warming.  All warming.  Note that the Arctic warms more than anywhere else, and the continents warm up more than the oceans.

Change in average surface temperature (a) and change in average precipitation (b) based on multi-model mean projections for 2081–2100 relative to 1986-2005 under the RCP2.6 (left) and RCP8.5 (right) scenarios. The number of models used to calculate the multi-model mean is indicated in the upper right corner of each panel. Stippling (i.e., dots) shows regions where the projected change is large compared to natural internal variability, and where at least 90% of models agree on the sign of change. Hatching (i.e., diagonal lines) shows regions where the projected change is less than one standard deviation of the natural internal variability

The greater Arctic warming is a major fingerprint of increasing greenhouse gases, one that is reflected in the observed changes in temperature during the last 70 years (see map below).  There are a number of reasons that the Arctic warms faster, including the loss of reflective sea ice and some subtle radiative effects, I won't get into.

A plot of the temperature change over the same period, but averaged by latitude clearly shows the Arctic warming.

2.  Stratospheric Cooling While the Lower Atmosphere Warms

Perhaps the most compelling support for the influence for increasing greenhouse gases might come as a surprise to many:  the cooling of the stratosphere.   Increasing CO2 warms the lower atmosphere through a process that is analogous to how a blanket warms you when slowing the loss of heat away from your body.  But having an efficient emitter of infrared radiation aloft actually results in cooling of the upper atmosphere.   So warming below and cooling aloft is a potent fingerprint of the influence of CO2.

Observations in the stratosphere and in the layers above (e.g., mesosphere, thermosphere), shown below and in the literature, demonstrate the cooling trend.  In the first figure, the blue and purple colors show cooling between 1979 and 2012 in the lower stratosphere, while the second figure shows cooling in the layers above the stratosphere (which ends about 50 km above the surface).

The cooling above the middle stratosphere is very important, because another issue (the weakening of the ozone layer from human emitted freon and other chlorfluoromethanes) could have produced some cooling.  But not in the layers above.

3.  Warming of the Earth's Atmosphere and Oceans and Model Experiments

As described in many places, the general temperature change of the past century determined by all the major centers are very similar, with cool temperatures during the late 19th century, warming during the first half of the 29th century, a leveling off from roughly 1950 to 1975, warming during the late 20th century, and a leveling off during the past 15 years.  The warming has been about 1C during the the entire period.  Analyses of the impacts of human emitted greenhouse gases suggest that our influence on warming would be mainly significant after 1970.

At first glance, this warming is not a compelling argument for human influence, since there was warming during the early part of the 20th century, which was probably natural.  There is some research that suggests that the pause during the middle of the 20th century might be associated with human-produced particles that scattered solar radiation back to space.

As I noted before, atmospheric scientists run climate models to simulate the evolution of the earth's atmosphere. If we run the model with only natural forcing (e.g., volcanoes, keeping greenhouse gases constant at pre-industrial values), the simulations do ok until about 1970,  but are way too cool during the past 40 years (see top figure below, the black line is the observed global temperature, the red and green lines are the average of collections of climate models).    But add changing greenhouse gases and the models are much closer to the truth (although they are a bit too warm during the last decade).

This is strong evidence of the important of human-produced greenhouse gases during the last half century.    Not as compelling perhaps as my first two fingerprints, but together with them, a pretty strong argument that humans are changing the climate.

The media and many politicians have not given enough emphasis to the above fingerprints, which are really the best evidence we have for human-caused global warming.  Instead they have pushed much weaker "proofs", such as a few big tropical storm events (e. g., Katrina, Sandy, Harvey) and the Washington/California wildfires.  As described in a excellent analysis by NOAA's GFDL, the connection of current contemporary hurricanes  with global warming is a weak one.  And the increase in western wildfires reflects in part the

mismanagement of our forests, suppression of natural fires for 70 years, the spread of invasive cheatgrass, and huge increase of people living and recreating in the forest environment.

In short, there is plenty of strong evidence of human impacts on climate change, it just takes a little study to appreciate why they are compelling and important.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Bountiful Snow But Warm Rain Is On The Way

The promised snow has fallen in the Cascades, allowing a number of ski areas to open, including Stevens, Crystal Mountain, Whistler, and Mt. Baker.  In fact, our current snow pack is well above normal.

Here is plot from NOAA showing the the snow depth last year (left) and this year (right) for today (Nov 17).  A LOT more snow this year than last.

The Northwest Avalanche Center did an analysis two days ago (see below) and the numbers are impressive, with Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics enjoying 500% of normal snow depth for the date.  Mount Baker 209% of normal and Mission Ridge at 325% of normal.  And we have had more snow since then.

So a very good start to the snow year in the Northwest mountains.

But snow lovers have a problem....some warm and wet weather is coming, with freezing levels rising well above the Cascade passes.

Here is the forecast for temperatures above Sea-Tac Airport.  The y axis is height and the x axis is time (increasing to the left in UTC/GMT).  The solid blue line is the freezing level (0C level), winds are indicated by the barbs, and relatively humidity with color shading (green is moist).

The freezing level is below 5000 ft overnight tonight and moist showery conditions are in place (more snow).  Tomorrow will be dry (no shading).   But then there is trouble...a strong current of moist air comes in later on atmospheric river...with the freezing level zooming up to around 7500 ft.  Rain on our precious snow.   Then the atmosphere cools a bit on Monday and then a VERY warm air mass comes in on Tuesday, with the freezing level reaching about 10,000 ft.  Not good.

The forecast total atmospheric moisture values in vertical columns (see below) shows impressive values of moisture streaming into the Northwest at 10 AM Tuesday--a substantial and warm atmospheric river.

And the 72h total precipitation ending 4 AM Wednesday is enough to send erstwhile Californian's back to the Golden State, with over 5 inches of warm rain over the higher terrain of Washington, Oregon, and California.  

With lots of rain and melting snowpack, flooding will be a concern by mid-week, with rivers such as the Snoqualmie and Skagit being forecast to reach flood stage (see below).  So be prepared if you live or work near these rivers.

 Thanksgiving week is traditionally the wettest and stormiest of the year..and it doesn't look like it will disappoint in 2017.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Low Solar Radiation: Is That Why You are Depressed?

I can't tell you how many folks have emailed me or complained in person about what they perceive as a sudden turn to darkness.  They feel depressed, tired and anxious.  Daytime light helps maintain our circadian rhythms and a number of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when the days grow short and clouds fill the sky.

So what is the truth?  How bad has it gotten?  Let's check. 

Here is the solar radiation reaching the surface in Seattle from the wonderful WSU AgWeaherNet collection of stations over the past six months (check below).   During June and July, some days had nearly 30 MegaJoules per square meter (a Joule is a unit of energy), and even cloudy days had about 15.  But recently, we have had days with 3-4 MegaJoules....way, way lower.   And the last few days, had no real spike upward in radiation to provide relief. 

Folks are HAS been dark.   Part of the problem is, of course, the turn towards more clouds the last few weeks.   But, in addition, the number of hours of daylight has progressively dropped, something shown by the figure below (the vertical white line indicates today).   We have rapidly lost daytime hours the past few months and we are close to hitting bottom.

The recent switch to daylight savings time makes it even worse, with our commute home now in darkness.

The air even feels different, with biting cool, dampness that Seattle residents fear.   Here is the plot of relative humidity for the past 6 months at Seattle.  During the past month, relative humidity has jumped to around 80-90%, resulting in not only a feeling of dampness, but a loss of visibility due to fog and water-absorptive particles in the atmosphere.

Very dark, clouds, humid, and cool---enough to scare off many Californians, and certainly able to explain the down feelings some folks have experienced during the past week.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wind Storm Update

The first...and lesser act...of today's wind event took place this morning, the passage of an occluded front associated with the offshore low.  But the main act is still in the cards, and folks should be prepared.

The infrared satellite image at 6 AM shows the swirl of clouds around the low center, located southeast of Vancouver Island.  The occluded front is indicated by the roughly north-south band of cloud over the Cascades at that time.

Heavy rain accompanied the occluded front (see radar at 2 AM), and after its passage winds surged.

The maximum winds during the last 24 hr (ending 6 AM), which pretty much happened during the past 6 hours, are impressive: several over 40 mph in the central Puget Sound, with some on the Kitsap Peninsula reaching 50-60 mph.  Even stronger winds on the coast.

 Power outages have already occurred over Seattle
 And Puget Sound Energy has about 25,000 customers blacked out, including large areas over the Kitsap.

The winds above Seattle-Tacoma Airport show the movement of strong winds aloft, some of which have reached the surface in gusts.  This chart shows sustained winds from the surface to 10,000 ft (700 hPa pressure in this figure), with time increasing to the right (in UTC, 13/12 is 4 AM this morning).  The solid triangles indicate 50 knot sustained winds.  Strong winds came in aloft overnight, and intensified with the occluded front.  Temperatures area cooling as well (think snow in the mountains).

We are now in the break before the main act.   You will even notice the rain has backed off and there will be sun breaks. Absolutely typical.  We must wait until late morning/early afternoon when the low approaches and the winds will increase again, probably exceeding what we experienced last night.

The UW has developed the Seattle WindWatch site (sponsored by Seattle City Light) to assist City Light in preparing for and managing wind outages.  One of its capabilities is to present the latest High Resolution Rapid Refresh forecast from the National Weather Service.   This system forecasts very strong winds along the coast at 11 AM (blue indicates gusts about 50 mph), with lesser, but still problematic winds (40-50 mph gusts) over the Seattle, with stronger gusts from Everett westward.
 By 4 PM, winds will accelerate further over central and southern Puget Sound.  With many leaves still on the trees and new branches untested by strong winds, expect more power outages.
Be prepared for the increasing gusts and avoid places with a lot of trees.  No biking to the UW on the Burke Gilman trail for me today!  And if you have trees around your home, expect lots of leaves down.